Who would Jesus torture?

Speaking of Dave Gushee, I’ve been trying, and failing, to come up with something encouraging or insightful or charitable to say about the results of a poll commissioned, in part, by his group, Evangelicals for Human Rights.

Polls show support for torture among Southern evangelicals:

<blockquote< A new poll finds that nearly six in 10 white Southern evangelicals believe torture is justified, but their views can shift when they consider the Christian principle of the golden rule.

The poll released Thursday, commissioned by Faith in Public Life and Mercer University, found that 57 percent of respondents said torture can be often or sometimes justified to gain important information from suspected terrorists. Thirty-eight percent said it was never or rarely justified.

But when asked if they agree that “the U.S. government should not use methods against our enemies that we would not want used on American soldiers,” the percentage who said torture was rarely or never justified rose to 52 percent.

“Presenting people with this argument and identifying with the golden rule really does engage a different part of people’s psyche and a part of their heart, their soul, and really does shift their views on torture,” said Robert Jones, president of Public Religion Research, which was commissioned to conduct the poll.

I’m just gonna go lie down for a bit, take some Advil, convert …

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  • hapax

    Amaryllis, could be worse. If they had something like that at my kids’ schools, they would probably choose the Bunny song from the Buffy musical — if my daughter didn’t go for Eowyn’s lament from Once More With Hobbits, and my son for “Brave Sir Robin”.

  • hapax

    Amaryllis, could be worse. If they had something like that at my kids’ schools, they would probably choose the Bunny song from the Buffy musical — if my daughter didn’t go for Eowyn’s lament from Once More With Hobbits, and my son for “Brave Sir Robin”.

  • Ryan

    Every other kid chose something from Disney. My kid decided to be Pirate Jenny.
    Ooh, that is pretty rebellious against Disney, considering they seem to believe that all girls want to be princesses and all boys want to be pirates!
    I’m quite comfortable saying that I’m a better person than most social conservatives.
    Well the social conservatives also seem comfortable in saying they’re better people than liberals, so this kind of thinking doesn’t get us anywhere.

  • Tonio

    have you ever felt the need to be part of a community?
    No. Mostly I’ve wanted the community to which I belonged to treat me with the same respect it would treat any of its other members. I’ve had mostly bad experiences when I have been parts of communities.
    Have you ever yelled (or wanted to yell) at your car when it won’t start, or asked your keys to please tell you where they’re hiding?
    No. Those seem pointless to me. Better to expend energy on figuring out what’s wrong with the car or to think about where I left the keys. I might consider that yelling or asking if I knew for a fact that it would get the results I wanted.
    Is there anything so absolutely, horrifically wrong that you can’t even bear thinking about it?
    Are you talking about human-caused atrocities, or natural calamites? In either case, I’ve never had a situation with either where I couldn’t bear thinking about it.
    Have you ever been to a place of particular beauty or with a particular personal connection or a particular history, and found the experience somehow special, even magical, like you were connected to something bigger than you?
    No. I’ve had special experiences in those situations, but nothing that felt like any connection to something bigger.
    Community, agency attribution, taboo, and the yearning for the numinous: that’s what religion is made of.
    I’ve never had the latter yearning. I’ve never seen the logic of the taboo concept – it seems like an attempt to tell people what to think and what not to think, and it usually backfires because it makes the taboo things more attractive. I must not be wired for agency attribution, because I relate to physical things as mechanical devices.

  • http://www.TheGoldenDance.com Michele my bell-flower

    @hagsrus: Dinner with Michael Valentine Smith, anyone?
    My thoughts, exactly!
    @Amaryllis: Michele: Thanks. Thanks a lot. Don’t you have a bell to ring or something? :)

  • Mark Foxwell

    One very wacky thing about the Haidt essay is that he seems to assume that progressives are simply unfamiliar with so-called “conservative,” reactionary impulses and thoughts.
    “But how can Democrats learn to see—let alone respect—a moral order they regard as narrow-minded, racist, and dumb?….
    Back in the United States the culture war was going strong, but I had lost my righteous passion[As, that is, a self-proclaimed “liberal atheist who had spent his politically conscious life despising Republican presidents… charged up by the culture wars that intensified in the 1990s] I could never have empathized with the Christian Right directly, but once I had stood outside of my home morality, once I had tried on the moral lenses of my Indian friends and interview subjects, I was able to think about conservative ideas with a newfound clinical detachment. They want more prayer and spanking in schools, and less sex education and access to abortion? I didn’t think those steps would reduce AIDS and teen pregnancy, but I could see why the religious right wanted to “thicken up” the moral climate of schools and discourage the view that children should be as free as possible to act on their desires. Conservatives think that welfare programs and feminism increase rates of single motherhood and weaken the traditional social structures that compel men to support their own children? Hmm, that may be true, even if there are also many good effects of liberating women from dependence on men. I had escaped from my prior partisan mindset (reject first, ask rhetorical questions later), and began to think about liberal and conservative policies as manifestations of deeply conflicting but equally heartfelt visions of the good society.”
    Welfare programs and feminism might be seen as “weakening traditional social structures?” Speak on, oh wise one, for we have never heard such thoughts before!
    I don’t know where Haidt came from, but in my experience the vast majority of progressive-minded people I have ever met or heard of come from much more conservative backgrounds. I grew up deeply steeped in a conservative world-view, and I suspect most readers here, at least those raised in the USA, did so as well. We know all about reactionary ideas, priorities, thought processes, taboos, and shibboleths.
    The thing is, we also know the darker side of this vaunted way of life; we know how pieties are often (some would say, “always”) a cover for much baser and meaner motives. We know how much deception we had to disentangle ourselves from, and so recognize that people clinging to these sanctified mannerisms may or may not perceive consciously that they are living in a web of slanders and half-truths. Maybe they embrace the nonsense in good faith, as many of us once did; maybe they go along to get along as some of us must also have done and in a sense, we all still more or less do today.
    Haidt’s profession of prior ignorance of and subsequent admiration for the pillars of reactionary wisdom, in this most reactionary of First-World countries, strikes me as either incredibly naive or amorally disingenuous; either way it is most unimpressive, save as a monument to the vacuousness of the so-called “conservatives.”
    As progressives, we have generally been there and done that; to simply go back is merely to surrender. As it happens, I feel that a lot of what makes me most passionate as a progressive is my retention, albeit reinterpreted, of the idealism that once seemed to me to underlay the conservative values I was raised with. I have not, for instance, ceased to be a US patriot, but nowadays I don’t see our history as a simple, providential, harmonious unfolding of obvious good; instead I identify all the more passionately with creative rebellion and the hard sacrifices of social progress. But in so doing I feel more identified, not less, with a peculiar greatness in the American tradition. And at the same time it is that very progressive tradition that demands tolerance, compassion, restraint, and a cosmopolitan outlook leading to a greater and more inclusive world order; by contrast, the old patriotism seems like small-minded, drunken and vicious cheerleading.

  • The Amazing Kim

    Let’s say you are both a humanitarian and a vegetarian, so you would go with “don’t eat the dog” but then if the human family is literally starving, you might choose differently. Or, you might choose differently if you know the family is from a culture where eating one’s dead is seen as a reverent act, because then the “respect other cultures” principle comes into play.
    Interesting you mention that. When a friend of mine committed suicide a few years ago, his maternal family flew from various parts of the world and held a traditional Papua New Guinean ceremony for his spirit, in conjunction with the Catholic ceremony held by the paternal relatives. As part of the ritual, his hair was baked into a cake (his whole body wasn’t necessary since we weren’t protein deficient in a rainforest, so just the symbolism was left). It was a beautiful gesture, actually, as a piece of Iam would literally stay within us.
    On a lighter note: eating doggies. I’m glad I have vegetarianism to defend this huge bucket of squick with extra Oh God No sauce and Hang Them From The Streetlights cherry on top. I’ve been known to give Disapproving Looks to people buying caged eggs, and tell jokes about the ingredients of sausages, that’s how militant I am. *carefully applies vegan camouflage paint*

  • Lee Ratner

    I would not say that most progressive people I know come from conservative backgrounds. In my experience most people tend to have their parent’s politics so my liberal peers had liberal parents. I was raised to respect the Democratic Party, FDR, and the New Deal, and loath the Republicans. Then again I also grew up in a Jewish household in a town very close to NYC so it might be skewed experience.

  • VandanaShiva

    In every church where I’ve heard them preach about the Good Samaritan (and it’s about 98% of the ones I’ve attended), they always always point out that the Samaritans were hated by the Jews. They’ve never pointed out exactly *why* (thanks to whomever pointed out the link to the Babylonian Exile – was that Geds??) other than a vague “they didn’t worship the same way” (something about the temple?), but they’ve always made the point that, to a Jew of the time, a Samaritan was about the most hated person EVER.
    Exactly, it’s more in the connotations of the relationship between Jews and Samaritans than their actual theological distinctions. And that is where the standard explanation fails – Samaritans are presented as being almost Jews, nearly there, close to the chosen people. In such a light, the parable appears to have a message of “even the imperfect can do good” not “even those horrible, no gooders are people who might treat you and others nicely”.
    The difference is very subtle, perhaps subtle enough that it’s unnecessarily difficult to explain how important this minute difference is. Nonetheless, the distinction is between a theology wherein if you’re on the borderline you could screech over the tracks, and where the entire point is that race, religious beliefs, ethnicity (and for the more modern folks of today sexual orientation and gender among others) don’t automatically relegate humans into categories ranked from best to worst. The inner world of morals isn’t something that is visible, like any of these other traits.

  • VandanaShiva

    Sorry for the potentially double post, but…
    @Mark Foxwell: I dunno, I come from a lesbian couple raising me a California college town sometimes called one of the most liberal cities in the US and I am rather familiar with the whole “giving women rights undermines their role in the home” argument.
    I suppose I’m predisposed in some ways though, since such attitudes directly affect my life.
    Let’s say you are both a humanitarian and a vegetarian, so you would go with “don’t eat the dog” but then if the human family is literally starving, you might choose differently. Or, you might choose differently if you know the family is from a culture where eating one’s dead is seen as a reverent act, because then the “respect other cultures” principle comes into play.
    Hmmm. Not that I believe in disrespecting cultures, but (at least for me) it’s not out of respect for the dead in such a situation that my moral compass twitches. It’s that (in their case) the cannibalism comes from respect for the person, whereas, in my culture and for most people in my culture, cannibalism is seen as more than taboo, but disrespectful towards the dead.
    So, it’s not that I’m respecting their culture, but that I understand that their motivation for cannibalizing comes from a completely different set of beliefs. They’re respecting the person by acting this way, while a person cannibalizing as an attempt to disrespect the dead, they’re another deal.
    I think a lot of people have trouble understanding this line of reasoning, which leads to a lot of inane discussions on who can use the n-word or the f-word or the c-word or ad infinitum.

  • http://d-84.livejournal.com cjmr’s husband

    Let’s say you are both a humanitarian and a vegetarian
    If a vegetarian eats vegetables…?

  • Tonio

    They’ve never pointed out exactly *why* (thanks to whomever pointed out the link to the Babylonian Exile – was that Geds??) other than a vague “they didn’t worship the same way” (something about the temple?), but they’ve always made the point that, to a Jew of the time, a Samaritan was about the most hated person EVER.
    My point had to do with the *why*. I already knew that the enmity was fairly common knowledge.

  • http://thisislikesogay.blogspot.com Duncan

    “Who would Jesus torture?” The vast majority of human beings, that’s who(m).
    A couple of years ago the blogger Bog Harris asked the very same rhetorical question, and I wrote him an e-mail that I’ll just quote here.
    [Harris wrote:] “If you’re a Christian, as the saying goes: what would Jesus do? I’m no expert, but my guess he probably would not hold a blowtorch to anyone’s genitals, no matter how many episodes of 24 you’ve seen. Either you believe your damn religion or you don’t.”
    I’m not exactly an expert either, which is to say I’m not a professional Bible scholar. But I have read the Bible more than most Christians (not very difficult, actually), and more than most other non-Christians (I’m an atheist, thank God, as Luis Bunuel said). I also have read what I might modestly call a shitload of New Testament scholarship (bibliography on request). And, well, I want to point out that torture plays a major
    role in the teaching of Jesus as reported in the gospels, which are unfortunately the best source for his teaching we have. (The “Gnostic Gospels” which get a lot of attention are no older, no closer to Jesus’ time, and probably even less accurate historically.) Jesus harped rather constantly on the horrible fate — eternal torture — that awaited those whom he found wanting in the salvation sweepstakes. If your eye offends you, pluck it out, for it is better to lose one eye than to be cast into the endless fire. If your right hand leads you to sin, cut it off, lest you be cast into the fire that is not quenched, the worm that is not sated. And so on. Those two famous quotations come from the Sermon on the Mount, which most people remember for its huggyface kissybear aspects, but which is organized around promises of salvation if you’re good, and promises of eternal punishment if you’re bad, so be good for goodness’
    sake! But the same theme runs throughout the gospels.
    So. *Would* Jesus hold a blowtorch to someone’s genitals? I dunno. They didn’t have blowtorches in his day, so the idea probably didn’t occur to him. Besides, he envisioned himself as the Crown Prince of the Universe to Yahweh’s Cosmic Overlord (sort of a first-century Dubya, as it were), so he probably didn’t think of himself as sticking red-hot pokers into the eyes of the damned — that’s a job for the underlings! A Roman emperor or a medieval Pope wouldn’t personally yank a victim’s arms out of his or her
    sockets either. Neither, come to think of it, does Dubya. But the same vicarious pleasure is no doubt there.
    In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus portrays Abraham as watching the torment of the Rich Man in Hell from his seat in Heaven, and callously expressing his unconcern: too bad for you, he tells him, you had your fun and now you have to pay.
    Al McCoy made something of the same mistake in his recent, excellent book A Question of Torture. He says offhand that torture was incompatible with the teachings of Christ. But torture is *part* of the teachings of Christ. He probably didn’t expect that his own followers would get in on the fun, because Jesus was also one of those The-End-Is-Near,
    Late-Great-Planet-Earth preachers: he probably didn’t expect the world as he knew it to be around for another two thousand years and counting.
    Thanks again, though, for hammering home a point that can’t be hammered home enough: that torture is wrong, and would be wrong even if it worked. One of the opinion pundits in the student newspaper here at Indiana University wrote an explicitly pro-torture piece in which he argued basically that *we* can use torture because we’re the good guys, and we
    have to protect ourselves from the bad guys. What he failed to grasp, of course, is that once you use torture, you’re no longer a good guy.